Note from TDS Managing Editor Ed Kilgore: This is the first installment of a regular feature in which I offer the best insights from my blogging at Washington Monthly’s Political Animal site, along with other reflections on the day in politics.
The big strategic issue today has been whether the President in his long press conference moved the debate over appropriations and the debt limit in his and the Democratic Party’s direction.
Here was my immediate reaction:
[T]he president did a good job of forcefully reiterating his position on the government shutdown and the debt limit and fighting the “false equivalence” meme in the media. These are both critical missions right now, since (a) Republican skepticism about his steadfastness is central to the GOP fiscal strategy, and (b) the combination of bad media habits, the complexity of fiscal issues, and public hostility to “Washington” make the “false equivalence” meme very powerful.
Having said all that, two aspects of Obama’s pitch worry me. One involves his answer–or really, non-answer–to a question about the potential incompatibility of a “no negotiations” stance with accepting a series of short-term CRs or debt limit increases and then engaging in budget negotiations. At some point, whether it’s acknowledged or not, indirect linkage between these two “tracks” of essential fiscal steps and “unconditional” negotiations will develop. Just saying they aren’t linked won’t necessarily change that basic fact unless both parties agree permanently to eschew using CRs and debt limit votes as leverage. I don’t think that’s quite on the table right now.
TNR’s Noam Scheiber lays out a more detailed–and alarmed–take on my concern about the inevitability of linkage between short-term “unconditional” measure on appropriations and the debt limit and ongoing budget negotiations.
My second concern may be more personal: I really think Obama is overdoing it in analogizing big fiscal decisions to household economics. In truth, sovereign nations are not just like families, and have resources at their disposal–and consequences for their actions–that are in no way comparable to those of individual households. The “kitchen table” analogies beloved of so many liberal pols over the years also cut both ways, as we’ve seen with the endless promotion of balanced budget amendments and arbitrary spending cuts by conservatives as analogous to an overextended family cutting up the credit cards or cutting out a few luxuries (indeed, that’s also the “conservative populist” argument for voting down debt limit increases).
In another post, I worried a bit about the perennial possibility that congressional Republicans are deliberately damaging the economy based on the calculation that bad economic news hurts the party controlling the White House regardless of actual responsibility:
It’s another reminder of the perils of our system of government at a time of asymmetric polarization: Republicans can act deliberately and unilaterally to screw up government in the reasonable belief a Democratic incumbent president and his party will ultimately lose support even if they do not objectively bear the blame.